The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on March 7 announced its plan to conduct a 60-day supplemental assessment of Norfolk Southern (NS) following multiple safety incidents.
This in-depth assessment, FRA says, is in addition to several actions taken by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) over the past several weeks to “improve freight rail safety and accountability to protect workers and communities.”
FRA’s announcement came the same day as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced that it would be conducting what it’s calling a “special investigation of NS’ organization and safety culture,” and one day after the Class I announced a six-point plan to immediately enhance the safety of its operations. The initiatives are based on the NTSB’s preliminary findings on the East Palestine, Ohio, derailment.
According to FRA, the agency’s safety team will review the findings and recommendations of the 2022 NS system audit and revisit FRA’s recommendations and the scope of the railroad’s responses. In addition, FRA will assess the following operational elements:
- Track, signal, and rolling stock maintenance, inspection, and repair practices.
- Protection for employees working on rail infrastructure, locomotives, and rail cars.
- Communication between transportation departments and mechanical and engineering staff.
- Operation control center procedures and dispatcher training.
- Compliance with federal Hours of Service regulations.
- Evaluating results of operational testing of employees’ execution and comprehension of all applicable operating rules and federal regulations.
- Training and qualification programs available to all railroad employees, including engineer and conductor training and certification.
- Maintenance, inspection, and calibration policies and procedures for wayside defect detectors.
- Procedures related to all wayside defect detector alerts.
- Measures implemented to prevent employee fatigue, including the development and implementation of fatigue management programs required as part of FRA’s Risk Reduction Program (RRP) rule.
- Current status of the hazard and risk analysis required by the RRP rule.
Information collected through the supplemental safety assessment, FRA says, will “exceed the scope of existing FRA audits, providing a more expansive look at NS’ overall safety culture and operations.” The information gathered, the agency adds, will be used to “target specific areas for FRA’s oversight and enforcement efforts and help identify risks beyond the reach of current federal regulations.” Finally, FRA says it will use the information collected to “push NS to develop measures to mitigate risks while identifying appropriate enforcement actions.”
FRA will issue a public report on its findings.
“After a series of derailments and the death of one of its workers, we are initiating this further supplemental safety review of NS, while also calling on NS to act urgently to improve its focus on safety so the company can begin earning back the trust of the public and its employees,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “This comes as USDOT continues its own urgent actions to further improve freight rail safety and accountability.”
Concurrently, USDOT is calling on NS to engage its employees and management around safety to protect workers and communities following Norfolk Southern incidents in Reed, Pa.; Bessemer, Ala.; Sandusky, Ohio; East Palestine, Ohio; Springfield, Ohio; and Cleveland, Ohio.
“Restoring public confidence, especially in the communities in which NS operates, requires action beyond the six-point safety plan introduced on March 6,” USDOT said. “Given recent events, NS and all major freight railroads must be taking immediate steps to prioritize safety training and culture along with operational actions that match the severity of recent incidents. NS must prioritize the safety and well-being of its workers as well as the millions of individuals living near routes on which they operate.”